Sunday, August 29, 2010

Krohn Drives To USMTS $$$$ At Moberly

As the cars and stars of the United States Modified Touring Series raced through the turns of 24 Raceway Saturday night during their five qualifying heat races, it looked more like a race through the Baja desert rather than a trip around one of the Midwest’s fastest dirt ovals. Dry spots going into turn one and into turn three appeared during hot laps and the dust plumes billowed and swirled from behind the cars as the drivers set them into the corners. But after an hour-long session of re-working the track during intermission, the issue was minimized and the track was back to its more normal racy condition for the main events.

Local driver Darin Walker now behind the wheel of the #22c ride sat on the pole position for the USMTS Modified thirty-lap finale with current point leader Ryan Gustin right beside him. Gustin shot to the lead at the drop of the green and it was the second row starters Jason Hughes and Tim Donlinger who picked up the chase of the leader. Another local, Kevin Blackburn was running a strong fourth and was putting the heat on Donlinger before he ended up in the turn four wall on lap eleven bringing out the second caution of the event. On the restart Donlinger, Hughes and Gustin raced three-wide for the next lap before Gustin again established himself as the leader.

With the preferred line by most being around the top side of the speedway, it was easy to spot Tommy Myer who was now working the extreme low groove in the corners and quickly making his way toward the front. Myer was up to fourth after starting fifteenth when the caution flew again on lap twenty-one for Corey Dripps. A flat left rear tire was the culprit for Dripps who himself had made a nice run up from fourteenth to sixth. Once again on the restart the battle was three-wide for the front, but this time it was Jason Krohn who joined Hughes and Gustin in a side-by-side-by-side formation. Gustin again used the momentum off the top groove to maintain the lead, but a lap later he went too high in turn one and tagged the retaining wall. The young gun from Marshalltown, Iowa, was able gather it back up and continue on but he lost several positions as Krohn inherited the lead down the back stretch. On the following lap Gustin again had issues in turn one as he tangled with Rodney Sanders in an accident that saw Sanders’ car #20 roll a couple of times before it settled to a halt upside down. The Texas driver crawled out of his used up racecar uninjured while Gustin headed to the pits to make repairs.

Before the red it still appeared that Myer was turning the best lap times running his low line, but the break for the cleanup in turn one must have made a difference as once back to green he could not mount a charge on the leaders. Krohn cruised the final six laps to take the $3,000 victory with Hughes coming home second and Myer settling for third. Zack VanderBeek came out of nowhere on the final restart to finish fourth after starting twenty-third while Kelly Shryock, who also slapped the turn one wall on the same lap that Gustin first did, held on for fifth. Gustin came back out to finish the race in 15th and he hopes to regain his point lead in the Hunt for the USMTS title as the series moves to his hometown track the Marshalltown Speedway on Tuesday night for the first of three straight USMTS appearances on Iowa tracks. The series then goes to Oskaloosa on Wednesday night September 1st and then on to the Highway 3 Raceway in Allison on Thursday night.

The Dart Iron Man Challenge for the USRA Stock Cars ran in support of the Modifieds with a solid field of fifteen cars taking the green for the twenty-lap main event. Point leader Mike VanGenderen started from the pole and held off the early challenges of driver and promoter Rick Girard. Girard is now promoting races at the Scotland County Speedway in Memphis, Missouri, on Saturday nights. Girard faded to fifth on a lap six restart and it was then Derrick Agee who applied the pressure on VanGenderen sticking his nose under the leader on several occasions. VanGenderen though was not to be intimidated as he held on to make the long trip from Newton, Iowa, worthwhile by taking the checkered flag first. Agee finished a few car lengths back in second while Iowa drivers Steve Jackson, Shane Weller and Nathan Wood rounded out the top five. The Dart Iron Man Challenge for the Stock Cars will close out its 2010 run with the three events coming up this week at Marshalltown, Oskaloosa and Allison.

The local four cylinder Hornet division was also in competition with Rob Chase taking the win in a race that saw only eight of the seventeen starters complete the twenty-lap distance with two cars taking hard rollovers. Fortunately both escaped injury.

Despite the questionable track conditions to start the evening, the show was an entertaining one as 24 Raceway always seems to offer up three and four-wide racing action. A big thanks to track announcer Doug Mealy for the kind words that he had for PositivelyRacing and another big thanks to my friend and neighbor Mark Hayes who made the evening possible for me with a mid-afternoon phone call.

Make sure that you try to hit at least one of the three USMTS events in Iowa this coming week!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Aikey Tops Clash, Schulte and Chandler Also Winners On A Darn Near Perfect Night In Tipton

On nearly a perfect night for racing the Cedar County Raceway, the Corn Belt Clash Late Models and two solid support divisions served up a near perfect night of racing Wednesday night in Tipton, Iowa. Maybe it was the fact that I hadn’t been to a racetrack in eleven days, or that it has been just over three weeks since I have been to a stock car race, but it sure was enjoyable watching the three divisions in action on a perfectly prepared surface in front of a beautiful blue and orange sunset on a crystal clear cool evening.

Twenty-four CBC Late Models were on hand and the storyline for their portion of the program started in hot laps when Chad Simpson, winner of eight of the Clash events so far in 2010, slowed to a stop on the front stretch. Chad got out of the car, looked at the rear end and then drove it back to the pits unassisted, but he was a no-show when it came time to run his heat race. Just before intermission though, Simpson came to the track and ran a couple of hot laps before returning to the pits for final preparations for the 35-lap main event that he would start from the rear. (For perhaps more details on the situation with Chad’s mechanical issues, check out “In Staging” as Ryan Clark had based himself in the pits for the evening while I, as always, prefer the comfort of the grandstands).

Two of the three Eckrich brothers in attendance, Denny and Dave lined up on the front row for the feature race and, after a couple of misfires due to spins in the back of the lineup, it was Denny who charged to the front at the third drop of the green. As the leader ran the very top of the quarter-mile oval, it was quickly obvious that Jeff Aikey had nailed the setup for the very bottom line of the speedway as he drove by Eckrich for the lead on lap four. With Aikey and Denny Eckrich starting to pull away from the field the crowd could now focus their attention on tight battles for position for third as well as throughout the field. Dave Eckrich, Jason Rauen and Kurt Kile were waging war for that third spot, with all three mostly hugging that bottom line, when all of sudden the #15K of Justin Kay hooked up on the cushion. Kay, one of six competitors who were taking advantage of the rules package that allows extra spoilers and the opportunity to run topless for the spec motors, started driving around competitors like they were standing still. By the time he was up to third there was a full straightaway between him and Eckrich, but Justin made up that ground in a matter of five laps as he moved into the second spot.

With just under ten laps remaining and with Aikey now riding behind the soon-to-be-lapped car of Wayne Hora who was also hugging the bottom, it looked as though Kay might just be able to reel in the leader as well. But with five laps to go a pair of lapped cars started to race each other just ahead of the challenger with one of them even moving up to the cushion. This forced Kay to abandon his lightning line around the speedway to get by the two of them and, at the same time, Aikey finally edged under Hora to put even more distance between the two front-runners and the race for the win was decided. It would be Jeff Aikey taking the $2,000 top-prize on this night with Justin Kay looking very impressive in second. Denny Eckrich would take home third-place money while Jason Rauen would finish fourth. And, as for fifth, coming all the way from the outside of row number twelve, it was Chad Simpson leaving us all to wonder what might have been if there had been a single caution and restart during the thirty-five-lap distance.

It is hard to consider the talent-laden field of thirty Modifieds as a “support” class this evening, especially when they presented such a clean and entertaining night of action during their portion of the program. Mark Schulte started from the pole and out-dragged outside row one starter Bill Butteris as the field took the green for their twenty-five-lap finale. A pair of cautions occurred on lap four when first Jake Bowman spun in turn two and when Davey Hammond got crossed up in nearly the same place on the restart. On the second restart Ryan Dolan made a run at the leader Schulte using the low line, but Schulte did not flinch and maintained his momentum up top to hold on to the advantage. A final caution on lap eleven for a track tire that had been punted out in turn two produced a restart that had the crowd on the edge of their seats for the next few laps. As the field went back to racing Dan Chapman dove low, Dolan used the middle and Schulte stayed up top through both sets of turns as the race for the lead went three-wide. As they came down the front stretch Mark actually dropped off the racing surface for a split second, but he retained his composure and again hit his mark perfectly into turn one. Dolan actually nosed ahead through turns one and two only to have Schulte again rocket by him on the high line down the back straightaway. Back out front, and with no additional cautions to slow his run, Mark Schulte went on to pick up the $700 winner’s check ahead of Dolan, Mike Burbridge, Chapman and Steve Stewart.

A solid count of nineteen Four Cylinders were also in action this evening with Steve Miedke pacing the first two circuits of their twelve-lap feature. Brad Chandler was on the move from his fourth starting spot driving around Miedke on lap three and then cruising to victory in a dominating fashion. Track point leader Jarrod McMichael came from the seventh starting spot to finish second, Brad’s brother Nathan Chandler moved from eighth to finish third, Chuck Hanson advanced to fourth after starting in row seven while Miedke held on to complete the top five.

CCR CBC Notes……I know, it sounds like the “Harlequin novel” side of me is coming out when I am describing a perfect night of racing while watching the sunset in front of me, but if you have ever been to a show at Tipton you probably know what I am talking about. The stands face directly to the west, which can be a bit of a pain when the sun is still up, but it becomes spectacular when that big orange globe sets and paints the twilight sky. With the track itself raised up (I was straight on eye level with the front stretch even though I was sitting midway up in the new bleachers) and a pretty good distance from the stands, it produces a different line of sight and sound than what you will find at most other tracks. I don’t feel like I am getting the full sense of the speed that the cars are carrying with this sight line, and it sure seems like they are all quieter than other tracks. Does sound rise???…..What else adds to a “perfect” night of racing? A lack of caution flags and we saw very few of them tonight. Both the Modified and Late Model heats ran caution free while one caution flew for debris in the two Four Cylinder heat races. The Modified B-Main, as can be expected, had three or four incidents that required restarts and all three features ran pretty clean. This all resulted in a final checkered flag waving at 9:34 p.m., perfect for a weeknight special event……I mentioned above that Justin Kay was one of six Late Models decked out with the spec motor body package with the other five being Colby Springsteen, Dale Stolte, Wayne Hora, Kevin Pittman and Brian Beaudry. Stolte has been absent from the Late Model scene for most of the 2010 season, but has posted a pair of top-five finishes here in late August. From the paint schemes it looks like his #78 and Hora’s #M2 are team cars and Hora is no stranger to Tipton as he has been a regular competitor here in the Street Stock division for several years. Pittman was behind the wheel of the #60 often driven by Dean Wagner……No WISSOTA cars on hand tonight, but the field did include Illinois drivers Mike Fryer and Russ Adams…..The Corn Belt Clash continues a three-races-in-three-nights swing with a show in Allison tonight and at Chateau Raceway in Lansing, Minnesota, on Friday……The Modified winner Mark Schulte is a two-time All Iowa Points champion (2006 and 2007) and he was being chased tonight by the current All Iowa Points leader in Ryan Dolan……This was my first chance to see Bruce Hanford back in action after mid-season back surgery and the #61 looked solid as always……Late Model driver Matt Ryan moonlighted tonight in a red #11M Modified…..One driver who is usually challenging for the Modified win here at Tipton had a night to forget as Brad Diercks pulled off the track just before the green flag for the second heat race, an event that he was going to start from the front row in, and he did the same thing later in the evening as he prepared to start the B-Main…..One of the cautions in the Modified B was for a multi-car scramble on a restart. Shaune Lewis ended up spinning off the track and when he showed his displeasure by driving into the side of Ben Traver’s car as it sat waiting for the realignment, Lewis was then sent to the pits…..Scot Fridley was impressive coming from the back of the twelve-car lineup to snare the fifth and final transfer position out of the B-Main after failing to start his heat race…..After only one caution in their heats, the Four Cylinders put on some good racing in their feature as well with only one yellow when Mitch Bielenberg stopped in turn two on lap number three…..A big thanks to promoters Al & Kathy Dlouhy for their hospitality and don’t forget that the Cedar County Raceway has three events remaining on their 2010 schedule. This Friday, August 27th will be Season Championship night and they will come back the following week September 3rd with a non-points event. Then on Saturday night September 11th they will close out the season in style with the Dlouhy/Devore Memorial that will pay $2,000-to-win for the Modifieds, $1,500-to-win for the Late Models and $400-to-win for the Four Cylinders. For more info you can click the ad at the top of this entry. I am hoping to make it to this show following the annual Iowa and Iowa State game in Iowa City.

Several tracks will be holding their Season Championship events this weekend. Make sure that you attend the track of your choice and we hope to see you there!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

One Track Closes, Two Extend Schedules, and More!

As I have aged I have found that after two straight weeks of Sprint Car racing at Knoxville and Oskaloosa I need a break. The Nationals wear me out anymore especially when I try to do the eight to five gig back home as well. Twenty-five years ago I wanted to go to the races every night of the week and that is the opportunity that the Southern Iowa Sprint Speedweeks provide, but nowadays I need a break, so let’s face it, I’m getting old! As I read the race results from Des Moines, Allison, Sedalia and Webster City this week there was still a little part of my heart that said, “you should have been there.” But, my sleep-deprived mind jumps in real quick and says “yea right, the closest one of those was just over two hours from home!” Hopefully my heart will start winning this battle again very soon though as the season is starting to slip away from us.

I see where another track has closed down the 2010 season a little earlier than originally planned as the Fredericktown Raceway in southeast Missouri, or “FredRock” as it is more affectionately known to its fans and competitors announced this week that they are scrapping the final two nights of their weekly racing season. Track owners did note however that they look forward to returning to full strength in 2011.

As one shuts down early, a couple of more tracks closer to home have announced an extended schedule for 2010. Quincy Raceways will continue to run on Sunday nights through October 10th and here’s hoping that they see a solid car count and fan base through the remainder of the season. I have always loved to go racing on Sundays in the Fall as high school and college football demand a lot of my attention on the first two days of the weekend. So now it looks like I’ll be setting the DVR for some NFL action and then heading down to Quincy a few times this autumn!

I guess that saying that the season is being “extended” at the Pepsi Scotland County Speedway in Memphis, Missouri, isn’t completely accurate. Columbia, Missouri, Stock Car driver Rick Girard is dipping his toe into the promotional waters and has “revived” the 2010 schedule at the neat little 3/8th-mile oval in northeast Missouri after the track closed down earlier this summer. Girard held his first event last Saturday night and, from all reports, things went pretty well with solid car counts and good attendance. They are back at it again this Saturday night featuring a $700-to-win Modified show and Rick plans to run into mid-October culminating with the two-day Mid-America Nationals event that will likely be held October 15th and 16th.

For coverage of all of the racing action around the tri-state area of Iowa, Missouri and Illinois check out Heartland Motorsports.

While you are visiting Positively Racing make sure that you check out the August 18th entry from Ryan Clark “In Staging” as he discusses the controversial promoter’s claim that took place in the Stock Car division last Saturday night in Boone.

Sprint Car fans who are heading to 34 Raceway this Saturday night for the Sprint Invader Twin features, don’t forget that there will be a “Meet and Greet” session with Burlington’s own Josh Schneiderman who finished 13th at the Knoxville Nationals this past week. I would love to go shake the hand of “The Professor” and watch his father Bart beam with pride, but I made a date with Jennifer Nettles a few months ago that I just have to keep.

Get out to the track of your choice, support the sport and I hope to see you at the races again soon!

And if you'd like to have a chuckle or two, check out the last entry from my favorite blogger Mark Titus.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Best Nationals Ever? Yea, I Think So.....

I don’t know how many times over the past thirty-four years that I have walked out of the Knoxville Raceway on a Saturday night in August thinking "wow, that was the best Nationals ever!" I’ll admit, it has been several times and that is why I don’t know exactly how many times I have felt that way. Who knows, maybe I am easy to please, but I do know that it has been a few years since the last time that I said that to myself. Last year was such a struggle with the weather and included the frustration of having the championship night moved to Sunday, so maybe the recent memory of that one made this 50th edition seem so much better. And, with the sheer range of emotions that I experienced over the final ten laps on Saturday night, future Nationals will be hard pressed to prompt me to say "that was the best Nationals ever", ever again!

If you are a regular reader of the Back Stretch you know that I normally follow a certain format when I report on an event that includes what is essentially a race story followed by a set of side notes that I feel are of interest. When it comes to the Nationals though, I take a different path as I will still place a standard bet that I am the only person walking around the place with press credentials hanging around his or her neck that also paid for a ticket for all four nights. Sitting in Section I, Row 20 along with friends and family, most that we only see for four nights a year, is every bit of part of the Nationals experience for me so the notebook stays in the car. And that is why you are not going to find a detailed report here of how this, the best ever Nationals as far as I am concerned played out. For some notes from the two intriguing qualifying nights, read the past two entries here, and for the full details of the Saturday night finale I encourage you to watch the delayed broadcast of the event on the Speed Channel on August 28th. But for now….

Much was discussed this past year or two about the 50th Nationals being a fifty-lap race and most of that discussion was in a negative tone. I believe that one prominent driver was even quoted this week as saying that it would be a fiasco. Well, if it would have been a traditional thirty-lapper, we really don’t know who would have won it as just as the caution waved on lap twenty-five for the mid-race pit stop Donny Schatz had a run on Sammy Swindell coming down the front straightaway. Would Schatz have made the pass if it stayed green? Would Sammy have been able to return the favor? We’ll never know that one.

The "pit stop" itself was nowhere near as "exciting" as one thought, and infield announcer Mike Roberts confirmed that other than changing tires and refueling, nobody made any significant changes during the break. On the restart Swindell blocked the low line into turn one and kept Schatz far behind until they started working traffic. With about fourteen laps remaining Schatz made a bold run at Swindell in turn three and drove up the track in front of him, but the cushion wouldn’t hold him and when Schatz bobbled to recover, Swindell drove back around him to the delight of the near capacity crowd.

It looked like the win was Sammy’s as he pulled away after that exchange, but the caution waved with (I believe) six laps remaining for Brian Brown who had shredded a right rear tire while running in the top four. What happened after that will be remembered for everybody who was in attendance no matter who they were pulling for. On the restart Swindell and Schatz traded the lead on the track at least three times as Donny would throw a slider and Sammy would counter by kicking off the cushion to drive back under him. Coming around for lap forty-seven Schatz finally made a move stick in turn four and he went to the cushion in one and two. Swindell charged to the bottom in turns one and two and looked like a slot car that was glued to the track as he drove off the bottom of two with the lead once ago down the backstretch. As Swindell slid up the track in turn three to close the door on Schatz his left rear tire exploded and he spun backwards before tipping over onto his top. Ten years ago the place would have gone nuts as in those days Swindell would have been the villain and Schatz the hero, but we race fans are a fickle bunch and there was a stunned silence that overtook the crowd as what would have been a storybook victory for Swindell had just been vanquished.

The silence turned to applause though as Sammy climbed out and first stood atop his still upside down car, then that applause grew even more as he walked from turn four into the infield. Then we all saw something that we never thought we would see. The veteran driver who has always been labeled as stand-offish or arrogant when in fact he is just a quiet, evenly emotional man, stopped and acknowledged the cheers by taking a bow to the grandstands. This despite the utter disappointment that he had to be feeling at the moment. The crowd erupted and started chanting "Sammy, Sammy, Sammy…." as he continued that long walk back to the pits. I’ll admit it, he has been my favorite for many years and to hear this replace the boos and catcalls that were normal in the past was really something to experience and nearly brought a tear to my eye.

So after all of this, we still had three laps remaining to determine who was going to be this year’s Knoxville Nationals champion. With Schatz now sitting out front, and with the vast majority of the crowd wanting to see someone else in victory lane rather than the driver that four years ago saw his first win here come to the thrill of the crowd; who three years ago impressed the crowd by following up that title; who two years ago got a smattering applause with his third straight win and who last year thrilled direct family and friends with his fourth straight (remember, we race fans are a fickle bunch), all hopes were now pinned on either Tim Shaffer or Shane Stewart to stop that run. Schatz was able to shake off the first attempt by Shaffer, but then a wisp of smoke was seen out of the #15 and Shaffer saw his golden opportunity as he drove under Schatz in turn two with just less than two laps remaining to take the win in front of a grandstand full of people who were jumping up and down, waving their hats and hugging whoever was sitting near them in celebration. The streak had ended, and as Shaffer celebrated in victory lane, I noticed that several of the fans around me joined in applause for the runner-up Donny Schatz. After all, race fans are fickle, but we still appreciate excellence!

Considering the action and the drama of the two qualifying nights and the way that the final ten laps played out here on Saturday night, it truly was the best Nationals ever! At least until next year. :)

One last note, a huge congratulations to Josh Schneiderman who as the one and only Iowa driver in the A-Main came from the twenty-third starting spot to finish 13th. What a great way to celebrate twenty-five years of racing for the Deuce Racing crew, I know that his papa Bart has a smile on his face that won’t go away for a long time to come!

That’s it for now, get out to your favorite track soon and make some memories.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Night Number Two At Knoxville

I have always felt that the two qualifying nights at the Knoxville Nationals are the most dramatic nights in dirt track racing and this year definitely supported that theory as Thursday’s show was again full of storylines.

First of all, how about this for irony? The 50th edition of the Knoxville Nationals had fifty cars sign in on Wednesday night, and fifty cars again for Thursday night.

Steve Kinser posted the fastest time in qualifying and then wasted no time moving into a qualifying position in the first heat where he wound up third behind Ricky Logan and Stevie Smith. With the most points going into the A-Main, Kinser lined up eighth but was never a factor as he finished the race in 11th putting him fifth overall on the final points list.

Kinser’s Tony Stewart Racing teammate, Donny Schatz, qualified seventh and then got an incredible jump on the start of the second heat to go from row four to third through the first two corners. Schatz was then able to slip by Dean Jacobs on a late restart to take second and it looked like his drive for five straight championships was well on its way. We’ll tell you more about how things went for Donny in the feature further down the line.

Danny Lasoski was the second fastest qualifier on the evening, but pulled up lame with a blown motor early in the second heat race. “The Dude” came back to win the C-Main and he then raced from 21st to 12th in the B-Main. On a night that started out so well, Lasoski’s 399 points ranked 42nd overall landing him in Saturday’s C-Main.

In heat race number three Lance Dewease and Rager Phillips wanted to make sure that everybody felt like they were getting their money’s worth as the two drivers swapped the lead back and forth at least six times before Dewease shut the door on Phillips to take the win. Greg Hodnett moved past Phillips with a lap to go for second.

The fourth heat got off to a tough start when Sam Hafertepe Jr. and Greg Wilson collided off of turn two sending both cars to the pits. The red flag appeared again on lap four when the right rear tire on Paul McMahan’s #91 shredded in turn three and he crashed hard. Once back to green “The Wild Child” fans celebrated as Jac Haudenschild ran away with the victory.

Sammy Swindell and Brian Brown started from row four in the fifth heat and while Brown moved quickly toward the front on the opening lap, Swindell faded to ninth. Two laps later it looked like Sammy was not going anywhere, but then something clicked and the Big Game Tree Stands #1 hooked up and started passing a car a lap. It has been a long time since I have seen a driver fade at the start only to come back and race his way to the front and with a caution on lap eight that was all the Swindell needed to pass Luke Hall on the restart for the win.

Tim Kaeding, who dropped out of the first heat with a sick motor, and Hafertepe waged a thrilling battle behind Lasoski in the C-Main with Kaeding taking the second transfer ticket to the B-Main. “TK” then made a strong run from row eleven to finish sixth garnering enough points to make him the 50th and final automatic “transfer” to Saturday’s show.

McMahan recovered nicely from his wreck to finish second in the B-Main behind Ian Madsen who appeared to smoke a motor at the checkers. Dusty Zomer was third while the battle for the fourth and final transfer position gave the crowd a thrill. Josh Schneiderman was running the cushion in fourth when Tyler Walker threw a slider at him with two laps remaining. Schneiderman maintained his composure and when Walker went to the bottom in three and four on the final lap, Josh rode the cushion off of turn four and then held his foot to the floor as Walker drifted up the track down the front stretch. The two made contact just before the finish line with Schneiderman taking the position by a car-length.

On the first attempt to start the A-Main Mark Shirshekan spun and on the second try Ohio driver Luke Hall took a tumble in turn one. The third attempt stuck as Swindell passed pole-sitter Skip Jackson coming off of turn four to take the lead on lap one. Donny Schatz soon moved to second and picked up the chase on Sammy with the two pulling even through heavy lapped traffic. Swindell made a nice move to pin Schatz behind a slower car in turn one and then pulled away apparently headed for a convincing victory. On the final lap though, as Sammy was racing down the backstretch the right rear tire went flat on Mike Moore’s car in turn three and the caution waved setting up a green-white-checkered restart. Swindell had a great jump on Schatz on the restart and the crowd was cheering on Skip Jackson who was making a run at Schatz for second on the final lap before the caution waved again for Moore who had spun in turn three. While under caution it became obvious why Swindell got such a jump on Schatz as the right rear tire on the four-time defending Nationals champion was losing air and he was doing everything he could during the caution laps to try to keep some air pressure in it.

This time it would be just a one-lap run and as Sammy pulled away for the win, Schatz was a sitting duck for Skip Jackson and Brian Brown. Both drivers worked around Schatz down the back straightaway and then when Jackson’s car ran out of fuel off of turn four Brown pulled ahead to take second and tabulate more qualifying points than anybody else. Skip held on for third while Stevie Smith nipped Schatz at the line for fourth. While it was a disappointing finish for Schatz he was lucky that he did not need another lap as the tire exploded in turn one. The crowd went crazy with Sammy’s win and Donny’s misfortune, an exact opposite reaction that you would have heard here not that long ago.

Six drivers, Brown, Swindell, Greg Hodnett, Schatz, Kinser and Daryn Pittman tallied more points tonight than Wednesday’s top point man Tim Shaffer. Shane Stewart is eighth, Jason Johnson ninth and Dale Blaney tenth while the remaining ten drivers who are locked into Saturday’s A-Main are Kerry Madsen, Skip Jackson, Lynton Jeffrey, Jason Sides, Dusty Zomer, Davey Heskin, Chad Kemenah, Joey Saldana, Erin Crocker and Brandon Wimmer. Interesting to note that of the twenty A-Main qualifiers five are Knoxville track regulars while five are World of Outlaw regulars.

Fans were also treated tonight to a feature race by the flat track motorcycles and the Legend Cars. The motorcycles will be in action here at Knoxville on September 17th and 18th so tonight served as a bit of a teaser for that event. I believe that the Legend Car race had something to do with raising money for peace officers who have been injured on duty, however the organizers of this event did not provide a single bit of information to the trio of announcers. So, by default, nobody in the stands knew what the heck was going on either. Hopefully they raised some money for their cause though!

Outlaw drivers Jason Meyers, Lucas Wolfe, Kraig Kinser and Sam Hafertepe are all on the list to compete in Friday’s Non-Qualifer program, plus the three Scrambles and the World Challenge should make for another interesting night of action at Knoxville.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Knoxville Nationals Night One Notes and Observations

Opening night of the 50th Goodyear Knoxville Nationals may have been one of the most topsy-turvy qualifying nights in the history of Sprint Car racing’s premier event. Tim Shaffer has been on a hot streak over the past two weeks here in the Midwest and he continued that tonight when he set quick time out of the fifty contenders on Wednesday night. Shaffer failed to transfer out of the first heat race though when young David Gravel threw a nasty block on him into turn three on the final lap to hold on to the fourth and final transfer spot. Shaffer would later come back to win the B-Main and he then moved from 21st to tenth in the feature, good enough to sit at the top of the points list after night number one with 470 markers. Even though he was the best on this night, Shaffer could still end up third or fourth after Thursday qualifiers are locked in if that show goes a little more “normal” than tonight.

The drama started as the green flag flew on the first heat race when Kraig Kinser drove up over the left rear of Johnny Herrerra down the front stretch. Kinser somehow kept the car on all fours, but his crew could not make complete repairs prior to the end of the pace car’s courtesy laps and Kraig would end up falling to the C-Main finishing ninth. Kinser had to battle Justin Henderson for the win in the “C” and he could only move up to 14th in the B-Main to complete a disappointing night ranked 32nd in points.

While only one driver who started in the quick qualifier row, row four, was able to get into the top four to transfer out of the A-Main from the five heats (we’ll talk more about her later), Mike Reinke sure proved that you could pass tonight driving by Trevor Green and Lee Sowell to take the win in heat number one.

Bob Weuve was running away with the second heat race before something broke on his #19 and he slammed hard into the turn three guardrail. After rolling a few times down the track, to add insult to injury Weuve was clipped by the right rear tire of Lucas Wolfe. Weuve crawled out of the wreckage and then rode back to his pit with infield announcer Mike Roberts. Roberts later reported that he had asked Weuve if he was okay and Bob’s response was a classic. “Was I okay before I got into the car?” Once back to green Aussies Max Dumesney and Lynton Jeffrey did battle for the win with Dumesney prevailing although most of the crowd was probably watching Outlaw regulars Craig Dollansky and Kerry Madsen race for fourth. Dollansky did a nice job of taking Madsen’s line away over the final laps to get the final transfer.

Pole-sitter Justin Henderson failed to come up to speed as the field took the green for heat race number three, but everybody kept their cool and the race stayed green. Chad Kemenah dominated for the win while the veteran Gary Wright held off Jason Johnson for the last transfer.

Heat four was halted for a three-car pileup that brought out the red when Don Droud Jr. ran into the back of a slower Domain Ramsey heading into turn one. Droud slid up the track and collected both Jack Dover and Cale Conley with Dover getting upside down. That would be the end of the night for Jack, while Conley made repairs and nearly caught Erin Crocker for the final transfer. By finishing fourth “The First Lady” became the only driver who qualified in the top ten to transfer directly out of a heat race and, by virtue of being the high point driver, Crocker would later start eighth in the A-Main. She finished 16th in that race and ended the night in tenth on the point sheet waiting to see how things shake out on Thursday night as in essence Erin is “on the bubble” right now as far as qualifying for Saturday’s Championship feature. By the way, it was Brad Sweet from the pole who won that fourth heat race.

Heat five saw Knoxville weekly star Mark Dobmeier run away with the win from the pole after posting a disappointing qualifying effort in 40th. Mark would later finish 15th in the A-Main, but with the low ranking on the qualifying chart his point total is only 26th on the list which could force him to race in Friday’s Non-Qualifiers show. Tony Bruce Jr. held off Jason Meyers to qualify in fourth.

The B-Main saw Joey Saldana come to life as he raced from sixth up to finish third behind Shaffer and Jason Johnson. Keep in mind that ten of the top eleven in qualifying were in this race and only four cars would advance on to the feature race, and let me tell you that race for fourth had everybody on the edge of their seats. Outlaw regulars Jason Meyers and Kerry Madsen were going at it over the final five laps and on the last trip down the back straightaway Madsen used the low groove to pull even with Meyers. With the last transfer position, and much needed additional points from the feature race on the line, Meyers pinched Madsen down the track forcing “The Madman” to make a decision. Kerry stomped the brakes and backed out of the tight situation saving both racecars, but lost the right to run the A-Main as well and he made sure that Meyers knew of his displeasure during the cool down lap. Meyers did a little gesturing of his own, then drove into the infield on the backstretch and went straight to his pits. One problem though is that you must report directly to the scales if you finish in a transfer position so Meyers was disqualified and was officially scored as the 20th-place finisher. Madsen would then move on to the feature where he raced his way up from 24th to seventh to end the night fourth on the points list with 464. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Meyers who, after coming close the past couple of years, had to be considered one of the pre-event favorites as he now sits 27th in the point standings and will likely be racing the Friday night show.

The A-Main was a good one with just one caution interrupting twenty-five laps of racing. Brandon Winner was out front early before Chad Kemenah stormed by on lap five. Shane Stewart who won here both Friday and Saturday during the 360 Nationals was on the move up from sixth and he caught Kemenah in lapped traffic with four laps remaining. Stewart made the pass and pulled away over the final two miles to take the $12,000 win. Craig Dollansky who qualified poorly in 27th and then had to hold on for dear life just to transfer out of his heat drove a solid race getting by Kemenah late for second. Weekly competitor Davey Heskin was impressive in fourth and Jason Sides took home fifth completing a very entertaining opening night at Knoxville.

Some new things at the 50th Nationals…..Porkchop, Legend Cars, Toby and The Clydesdales…..Porkchop is a clown who provided some entertainment during the breaks including the launching of a couple of stealth water balloons into the stands. After shooting a t-shirt just before it, fans tried to make the catch and the splash of water probably felt pretty good on this hot, sultry night……Several Legend Cars hot lapped during intermission and while everything seems to be hush, hush right now, I am thinking that we are going to see some celebrities and Cup drivers wheeling these cars in an exhibition race on Thursday night……Toby Kruse joined the booth announcing duo of Tony Bokhoven and Blake Anderson on the mic tonight. With T-Bok likely working the TV taping doing infield interviews on Saturday night for Speed, Toby and Blake will probably provide the call to the fans…..The Budweiser Clydesdales made a trip around the half-mile during intermission and the Knoxville Raceway Fire and Safety Crew was quick to “extinguish” a steamer on the front stretch.

Top Ten from Wednesday:
1. Tim Shaffer 470
2. Shane Stewart 470
3. Jason Johnson 468
4. Kerry Madsen 464
5. Lynton Jeffrey 461
6. Jason Sides 461
7. Davey Heskin 452
8. Chad Kemenah 452
9. Joey Saldana 447
10. Erin Crocker 445

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Kaeding Goes Two For Two Without The Wing In Iowa

“The One Night Stand For Fifteen Grand”, featuring the USAC non-wing sprint cars outran the nightly monsoon by a matter of minutes as Bud Kaeding took the checkered flag first in front of a large crowd. The fact that this event was even able to be run Tuesday night at the Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa is amazing given the torrential rains that fell here overnight both Sunday and Monday. But, with the hard work of all involved and headed up by promoter Terry McCarl, both Monday’s Front Row Challenge and Tuesday’s Ultimate Challenge were once again huge successes.

Twenty-seven cars were on hand tonight racing on a track that had no choice but to be heavy and it took its toll on drivers who pushed it beyond the limit. There were eight flips tonight involving seven cars and the majority of them came in turn one where a ridge developed on the approach to the cushion, so if a driver would set his right rear in this one wrong spot, he was either going to have to make a spectacular save or hang on for the ride. Fortunately in all eight flips the driver emerged unscathed.

The start of the thirty-lap feature saw both Bryan Clauson and Damion Gardner stumble on the entrance into turn one and, since they were starting on the first and second row respectively, their wheel hopping forced the rest of the field to scramble. Bill Rose and Chris Windom both went for the same piece of real estate and the two of them went for a tumble with Windom’s car shucking its tail tank in the process. As the safety crew took all proper precautions to remove the full tank of methanol from the racing surface, the crowd grew impatient as they could now see the air-to-ground lightning strokes to the north, the same direction that a now cooling wind had also increased from. On the restart it was Clauson who would move to the lead while Bud Kaeding, Sunday night’s winner at Knoxville, would move quickly from fourth to second. Kaeding was on a rail again tonight and applied the pressure on Clauson for several laps before completing the pass for the lead on lap eleven.

Clauson tried to keep pace in second, but he now had sixteen-year-old Kyle Larson closing in on him in third. At the mid-race point Larson looked like he was the fastest car on the track, but he hit the cushion in one and two too hard, bicycled and then went end-over-end a couple of times ending his night. Up until that point Larson had been undefeated as he won his heat race, his qualifying race and even the hula hoop contest during intermission edging out “The People’s Champ” Dave Darland. On the restart Clauson made a run on Kaeding and dove underneath him into turn one, but as the field went down the backstretch Robert Ballou went for a ride that thankfully involved more twirling than rolling. For Ballou it was his second rollover on the night as he also tipped over after running into a slowed Scotty Weir during his heat race.

On the next green flag Clauson again tried to mount a slider on Kaeding into turn one with no success as Bud opened up a big advantage heading down the backstretch. As the laps ticked away both Clauson and a now third running Levi Jones were able to make up ground on the leader, but there would be no catching Kaeding before the checkers waved. As the crowd started to scramble for their cars before the storm arrived, Kaeding did a couple of victory spins on the frontstretch and then climbed atop his car with the victory belt raised high in jubilation. Clauson and Jones would join Kaeding on the podium, Damion Gardner finished in the fourth spot while Darland passed Jerry Coons Jr. on the final lap to take fifth.

Osky UC Notes…..The night started with a tribute to the 2009 winner of this event Jesse Hockett. “The Rocket’s” father Jack brought his #77 car to the front stretch and several members of his family joined him as central Missouri based announcer Scotty Cook did a spectacular job of describing the life and the attitude of the fallen hero. It would have been tough to find a dry eye in the place….With Kaeding’s victory the Ultimate Challenge still does not have a two-time champion…..Besides Larson, another teenager from California caught our attention tonight as Keith Bloom Jr. was running strong before getting upside down in turn one during the third qualifying race. On the restart following Bloom’s mishap, one of the night’s favorites Jon Stanbrough was also bitten by the ridge in turn one…….Chris Morgan took perhaps the hardest ride of the night during the first qualifier, once again in turn one…..Henry Clarke will not look back fondly on his August trip to Iowa as mechanical problems once again ended his night before feature time just as they did at Knoxville on Sunday.

It all starts tonight! The 50th edition of the Knoxville Nationals sponsored this year by Goodyear. Check in here each day for random observations and news that we pick up as we once again have our block of tickets purchased in Section “I” and I will leave my notebook in the car so as not to have any adult beverages spilled upon it! You can always catch the full results as they happen on the Knoxville Raceway website and if you cannot attend in person, you can always listen live to our friends on Hoseheads Radio. Stay away rain, we’ve had enough!!!!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Things Are Heating Up In the All Iowa Points Chase

Just like the weather, the battles for the top of the All Iowa Points standings has heated up here in August in several divisions. And, with only three or four weeks of “weekly” racing remaining, it looks like some of the 2010 titles will be decided during the special events season in September and October.

Disregard the lead paragraph above when it comes to the Late Model division as Ray Guss Jr. continues to dominate and has essentially clinched his second straight and fifth overall title. Terry Neal is having a pretty darn good season with ten feature wins, but he is still a distant second to Guss while Jeff Aikey sits in third.

The Modified chase is up for grabs as only twenty-six points separate the top ten drivers and when the updated points are posted this week at Positively Racing you will find a new leader in Ryan Dolan. Richie Gustin who has been on top of the ladder for most of the season is just one-point back in second while Doug Crampton is only eight markers back in third. Jimmy Cole and Michael Long round out the top five eleven and twelve points respectively behind Dolan.

Austin Kaplan looked like he might run away with the Limited Modified championship, but Jesse Sobbing has made up some ground recently and is now only sixteen points behind in second. Brett Meyer and Cayden Carter are tied for third while Jeremy Embrey is only one point behind those two in fifth.

He’s still pretty comfortable, but Dustin Smith’s lead in the Stock Car points is down to thirty-three over Nathan Wood with Jason Ward and Chad Palmer both eclipsing the century mark this week in third and fourth.

What looked like a two-horse race between Devin Smith and two-time defending champion Shannon Anderson in the Hobby Stocks has grown to three now with the addition of Dustin Larson. The southern Minnesota based driver has been on a roll lately and has closed to within six points of Devin Smith for the lead while Anderson is twenty-nine points out of first. Chad Gentz and Michael Murphy are currently tied for fourth.

Nate Coopman has dominated the tracks that he races at and with eighteen feature wins he enjoys a twenty-one point lead as he looks for his second straight Four Cylinder championship. Nathan Chandler is second, Amanda Kaltveld who spends most of her race nights chasing Coopman is in third while Sioux City drivers David Miller and Cody Thompson round out the top five.

It’s Nationals time so the Sprint Car standings can shake up quickly over the next two weeks. In the 410’s three-time champion Mark Dobmeier has moved past Lynton Jeffrey for the lead in the standings. Jack Dover’s advantage is down to just five points over Eric Lutz in the 360’s and Ryan Voss now has a comfortable twelve-point cushion over Casey Friedrichsen in the 305 division.

As of right now “Shiverfest” will be the final points-paying event for five divisions of the All Iowa Points on Saturday October 23rd at the Lee County Speedway in Donnellson.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bud Kaeding Is Knoxville's Non-Wing Nationals Champion

It was a hot, sultry evening at the Knoxville Raceway Sunday as thirty-three USAC non-wing Sprints and twenty-nine 305’s prepared to do battle and I was very fortunate to get a late call from Bill Wright asking me to join him for the live webcast on Hosehead’s Radio. Being asked to describe the racing action to internet listeners worldwide is always an honor, but on this night I think that I was even more excited about the fact that Morgan and I were now going to be in an air conditioned booth rather than in the sun drenched grandstand! While doing the webcast I was unable to take my usual notes so following are some general thoughts from the evening.

The four heat races for the USAC cars were very entertaining featuring three and four-wide racing around the big half-mile. Former track announcer and current editor of Flat Out magazine Justin Zoch joined us in the booth following the heats and he reported that the big crowd was buzzing with excitement following the four qualifiers and that he had heard several people say “let’s take the wings off of ‘em this week as well” in reference to the 50th running of the Knoxville Nationals. The twenty-five-lap feature saw plenty of action early as Scotty Weir and Brady Bacon set the pace, but it didn’t take long for the fifth-starting Bud Kaeding to charge into the lead. The race went non-stop and with the high-line becoming dominant after the first few laps, the field started to string out just a bit. Bacon was able to keep Kaeding within striking distance throughout, but whenever he tried the lower line through the turns he would lose several car-lengths and then need a few laps just to catch back up. Lapped traffic behaved well and Kaeding cruised in for the win with Bacon about ten car-lengths back in second. Daron Clayton passed Weir late to finish third while Damion Gardner came from 11th to finish fifth. Bryan Clauson, Robert Ballou, Chris Windom, Casey Shuman and Dave Darland completed the top ten while Levi Jones had a fifth-place finish fade away when his right rear tire went flat on the final lap. Jones limped his STP colored #20 in for 11th.

The USAC Sprints will be back in action on Tuesday night for the $15,000-to-win Ultimate Challenge at the Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa.

Two drivers who have done their fair share of 410 racing here at Knoxville, Rager Phillips and Travis Cram started from the front row in the 305 main event and that is how they ran the entire race with Phillips winning and Cram taking second. Behind them though there was some interesting racing going on as Marty Stephenson finished third and Chad Huston took fourth. Matt Stephenson started 11th and finished fifth while central Missouri visitor J Kinder came from row nine to finish sixth. Nick Ross, Casey Friedrichsen and Matthew Stelzer finished seventh, eighth and ninth while Mark Widmar, who only made the field as an alternate when Dustin Clark did not report to staging, came from 20th to finish tenth.

NASCAR’s Ray Evernham started the race on the inside of turn two and did a great job of saving his car, and likely many others, when contact put him sideways in turn one at the start. Evernham collected himself nicely and went on to finish the race in the 11th position.

A big thanks to Bill Wright for the invite! Remember race fans for those of you who cannot make it out to Knoxville this week for the Nationals, and keeping in mind that the event will not be televised live this year, you can always catch the live webcast on Hosehead’s Radio with “Hot Rod” Pattison, Bill W. and a long list of drivers and celebrities who will join them in the booth this week.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Rockstar Stewart Takes 360 Nationals Title At Knoxville

When Sammy Swindell and Jason Johnson swapped sliders following a late restart it was exactly what Shane Stewart was hoping for as he locked up the victory in the 20th Annual Arnold Motor Supply 360 Nationals Saturday night at the Knoxville Raceway. In the companion 410 event, Johnny Herrera enjoyed the fruits of victory before later suffering the agony of defeat.

Two Knoxville regulars, Chad Humston and Dustin Selvage brought the field to the green flag for the twenty-five-lap National Championship with Humston vaulting to the early lead. Shane Stewart started directly behind Humston and took up the chase as the two leaders worked the low line around the hallowed half-mile oval. Stewart kept the pressure on Humston until the caution waved on lap eight for a blown motor on Brian Brown’s fourth-place car. During the caution track officials were taking a look at Humston’s car as it slowly circled the track noting that a brake caliper had fallen off. Humston appeared to acknowledge the situation and the green flag waved once again. Two laps later, as he exited turn four, the right front wheel folded under on the leader’s car and he shot up toward the front stretch guardrail. Humston avoided contact, but then the car turned left down the track as it continued to slow. The first few cars were able to avoid the limping mount, but the seventh-place car of Johnny Herrera could not as he clipped the front end and went for a wild side-over-side ride featuring some big air before coming to rest in front of the flag stand. Humston climbed out quickly and walked dejectedly back to the pits while Herrera took a little more time to exit his mangled ride before making that walk to the pits in the exact same manner.

Stewart inherited the lead for the restart and threatened to pull away as Sammy Swindell and Jason Johnson continued to move toward the front. Cautions on laps thirteen and fourteen for Davey Heskin and Brady Bacon respectively kept the field bunched together with Swindell and Johnson next in-line and ready to pounce. Johnson had actually passed Swindell for second prior to the Heskin caution and having come from a seventh row start it appeared that the “Ragin’ Cajun” was now the fastest car on the speedway. Once back to green Swindell was at first too busy fighting off the challenge from Johnson to focus on Stewart, but as the laps wound down Sammy started running the opposite line of Stewart and was making up ground on the leader. Stewart was still looking solid, but Swindell was close enough to take advantage of any slight mistake with two laps to go when the fifth-place car of Randy Hannagan slowed down the front stretch and coasted around the bottom of turns one and two forcing one last caution.

The stage was now set for a green-white-checkered shootout for the $10,000 top prize and Sammy made a good run at Stewart into turns one and two. But Johnson was right there as well and when he pulled alongside Swindell down the back straightaway, Sammy was forced to close off the top into turn three and that was all that Stewart needed to pull away over the final lap to take the win and “party like a Rockstar”. Swindell and Johnson were next in line while Dustin Selvage drove a fantastic race to finish fourth. Another local, Bronson Maeschen took the fifth spot ahead of Jack Dover who made a nice run up from row nine. Tony Bruce Jr. was solid in seventh, Danny Wood finished eighth, B-Main winner and twenty-first starter Tim Kaeding was ninth and his brother Bud Kaeding took tenth.

The full night of action also included a complete program for thirty-nine 410 sprints who went through qualifying, four heats, a B-Main and a twenty-lap A-feature as a tune up for next week’s 50th edition of the Goodyear Knoxville Nationals. Former track champion Skip Jackson started on the pole and would lead the first lap before defending track champion Johnny Herrera blew past him. Sammy Swindell who was the fastest qualifier, but drew the number 12 for the invert, was picking his way through the traffic and so was Dale Blaney who had started ninth. Both drivers were nearing the top five when the red flag waved as Ian Madsen and Tim Kaeding crashed in turn three with twelve laps remaining.

Jackson made a hard run at Herrera in turn one on the restart, but Johnny fought him off and again opened a comfortable lead. Blaney continued his march to the front and was up to fourth before his left rear tire blew going into turn one on lap thirteen. Blaney’s car slid up the track backwards and collided with the fence causing him to roll over one time. The frustrated driver from Ohio climbed out with no injuries, and perhaps a sense of optimism for next week given his performance before the tire failure. With seven laps remaining, and an open racetrack in front of him, there was no catching Herrera as he tallied his 17th career victory at the Knoxville Raceway. Jackson showed that he is still a contender by running a strong second and Swindell worked his way up to third at the checkers ahead of impressive Australian Jamie Veal. Mark Dobmeier was the hard charger on the night coming from 18th to finish fifth.

K-ville Saturday Notes…..Veal would have been starting much deeper in the field for the 410 feature had he not nipped Lynton Jeffrey at the line for the fifth and final transfer out of the third heat race….The fourth 410 heat saw six Australian drivers in the nine car field and they controlled the top three with Max Dumesney taking the win ahead of Skip Jackson and Trevor Green…..Rob Kubli and Jim Moughan both got upside down just past the chalk line at the start of the 360 D-Main…..Lee Jacobs was penalized two rows for jumping the original start of the 410 B-Main and he later came up one spot short of transferring at the checkers…..Davey Heskin was the fourth and final qualifier out of the 410 B-Main. Then, after intermission, he made passes of Matt Moro and current track 360 point leader Clint Garner to finish third and transfer into that A-Main as well. Garner was left on the outside looking in…..My son Morgan pointed out something tonight that I have known for quite some time, but have just never included in my writings. Mike Roberts does an absolutely fantastic job as the infield announcer at the Knoxville Raceway. His reports from the work area are detailed without being too technical and he always seems to know exactly the right questions to ask drivers during interviews and in victory lane……During the post-race press conference Shane Stewart made a pretty bold statement that, at this point in time, just might be true. Noting the high car counts and the draw format used by his series Stewart stated that it is harder to “make the show” at a Lucas Oil ASCS National Tour event than it is at a World of Outlaws event.

The headline on the sports page of this morning’s Des Moines Register reads “Knoxville to end live finale telecast”. I know that those of you who are unable to attend the Nationals for whatever reason are going to disagree with this, but HURRAY!!!! Ever since this event was taken “to the next level” by being telecast live in 2002 the attendance numbers have gradually declined. Plus, those of us who have purchased tickets year after year (since 1976 for me) were becoming increasingly annoyed by having to wait as much as a half hour between the D and C-Main for the telecast to begin, along with the extended breaks that were then taken between the final three races for TV to “do what they do”. Last year that wait was even more agonizing as we watched a thunderstorm cell approach on radar that eventually washed out the night’s action and moved it to Sunday…..without live television! I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to know that we, as a crowd, will not be told this week that we are going on air in three minutes, and when we do we need to make a lot of noise, wave our hands and show everybody at home just how much fun we are having. Last year I took that three minutes to scribble out the words “Live TV Sucks” on the back of my notebook, perhaps you saw it on some of those early crowd shots? If you are in the neighborhood this Saturday night, come on out and buy a ticket. Being there and experiencing this spectacular event firsthand is exponentially better than what it is on television. And, if you live far away, go out and buy a ticket to your local racetrack and enjoy a night of action there. After all, you can always watch the Nationals later on the Speed Channel on August 28th at 3:30 p.m. Central or on September 3rd at 2:00 p.m.

The non-wing USAC Sprints hit the big half-mile at Knoxville tonight with the 305 Winged Sprints running in support.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Stewart and Swindell Steal The Show At Knoxville

A final lap pass for the win by a former event champion and a brilliant charge from the back to the front by a cagey veteran topped off a thrilling night number two of the 20th Annual Arnold Motor Supply Knoxville 360 Nationals Friday.

One of the headlining stories in the main event actually got its start on the third lap of heat race number two when Danny Wood put a slider on Sammy Swindell while racing for fifth in turn three. Swindell did not yield, drove up over the cushion, and then slowed, but never stopped to bring out the caution. Before the restart Swindell showed his displeasure with Wood by driving across his nose and he then moved to the back of the eleven car lineup for the restart. As the green waved Swindell’s car popped out of gear causing him to limp through turns three and four and the caution waved for him again. Despite the two cautions, Swindell stayed on the track and was able to move up four spots to finish seventh for a transfer into the B-Main. Wood moved up to third and went directly to the A.

Sammy ran away with the B-Main earning the 21st starting position for the twenty-lap main event with Bud Kaeding and Gregg Bakker occupying the front row. But it was the fourth-starting Johnny Herrera who shot to the lead down the back straightaway on lap number one. Randy Hannagan quickly moved to the second spot picking up the chase of Herrera while deep in the pack Swindell was working his way quickly toward the front. On lap eight the caution waved for Clint Garner who slowed on the backstretch while running in the fourth position. Swindell would restart in ninth and it was now a good bet that Sammy would be in the mix for the win with twelve laps remaining.
Sammy Swindell (1) races Brooke Tatnell (14) for fourth late in the feature event - Barry Johnson photo

As Swindell gained two more spots in two laps, Shane Stewart worked his way past Hannagan for second and now had his sights set on Herrera who was quickly closing on lapped traffic. Swindell put a slider on Brooke Tatnell for fourth with five laps remaining while a straightaway ahead Stewart was sizing up Herrera for one final challenge. Stewart tried the bottom groove of turns one and two with three laps remaining, but Herrera’s momentum off the cushion kept him out front. Coming off turn four to the white flag Stewart pulled to Herrera’s push bar and then dove low into turn one. As Stewart came up the track, Herrera bobbled for a split second on the cushion and that was all that Shane needed to put his Rockstar Energy Drink #57 into the lead and he held off one last look from Herrera in three and four to take the victory. Hannagan finished a few car-lengths ahead of Swindell who advanced seventeen spots to fourth while Tatnell came from fifteenth to fifth. Davey Heskin was shadowing Swindell on his run to the front as Heskin came from row ten to finish sixth, Kaeding held on for seventh while Danny Wood finished eighth. Cale Conley finished where he started in ninth while Darren Long rounded out the top ten.
Shane Stewart passed Johnny Herrera on the final lap to win Friday night's feature at the Knoxville 360 Nationals - Barry Johnson photo

360 Nats Friday Notes…..How different was the track tonight? Chad Meyer’s quick time of 16.681 would have ranked 42nd on Thursday night. Meyer’s night went downhill after his interview with Mike Roberts as he could not advance any positions in his heat and then he was unable to start the B-Main when motor problems brought him to the work area……Just like last night there was only one red flag on the evening and this one came on the first turn of the first heat. Brian Parker got into the guardrail and rolled a couple of times before climbing out under his own power…..Dennis Moore Jr. driving one of Doc Sloan’s cars and Darren Long were the two fastest qualifiers in the fourth heat and they made contact in turn one on the opening lap. Long recovered and was able to race his way up to third while Moore dropped back to seventh at the finish…..Don Young came up a position short of transferring to the A-Main when he could not chase down veteran Gary Wright over the final laps of the B…..Phil Hague (sp?) started the night out in fine fashion with a great rendition of the National Anthem on a harmonica. Hopefully he’ll be back to do it again next week…..Injured driver Wayne Johnson joined Bill Wright tonight for the live webcast on Hoseheads Radio.....Scott Traylor, Kirk Elliott and the Racinboys crew will also have live coverage of Saturday nights action as they do of all of the Lucas Oil ASCS National Tour events.....Two drivers who run Knoxville’s 360 division on a weekly basis, Chad Humston and Dustin Selvage, will start from the front row in Saturday’s Championship event.

The Knoxville infield will be packed with Sprint Cars and the half-mile oval will be packed with action Saturday night as 100 cars are set to run the E, D, C, B and A-mains and expect a full field of forty or more 410’s in their final tune up for the 50th Annual Goodyear Knoxville Nationals.

I learned tonight that legendary announcer Jack Miller had passed away at the age of 74 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. As one of the track announcers at Knoxville back in 1998 I had the distinct honor of introducing Jack for his 25th and final call of the Knoxville Nationals Championship feature event. No matter how hard any of us try, we will never match the class, the knowledge and the enthusiasm that Jack Miller brought to the microphone. And that I loved hearing that voice! Rest in peace Jack!

Knoxville 360 Nationals Night One Goes To Brown

As he was signing autographs during intermission Brian Brown told the crowd that after he screwed up during qualifying he knew that he needed to win everything else on the evening to put himself in a good position for Saturday’s championship night. “I won my heat race and I even tried to be the first one over here to the grandstand to sign autographs, but they won’t give me any bonus points for that,” Brown jokingly told announcer Tony Bokhoven. “Now I just need to go out and win tonight’s feature.” And he would do just that putting the Factory Value Parts car #21 in victory lane on the first night of the 20th Annual Arnold Motor Supply 360 Knoxville Nationals.

Brian Brown cruises past the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum on his way to victory - Barry Johnson photo

Brown’s twelfth-quick qualifying effort and his victory in the second heat race earned him the third-starting position for the twenty-lap main event and he drove around the outside of Zach Chappell on lap two to take the lead. As Brown pulled away the driver on the move was Dustin Selvage as he blew past Chappell and Tim Kaeding to move into second by mid-race and showed signs of closing the gap on the leader as Brown worked traffic. The first caution of the event waved on lap thirteen when Chappell slowed on the front stretch ending what looked to be a sure top-five finish for the tall thin Oklahoma driver. On the restart Selvage was able to stay with Brown, but could not mount a challenge before the caution waved again on lap fifteen, this time for a shredded right rear tire on the #83 of Kaeding who was running fourth at the time.
Dustin Selvage (7) flashes by Tim Kaeding for second - Barry Johnson photo

Once again on the restart Brown closed the door on Selvage in turn one and then never looked back as he cruised the final five laps to victory. Selvage was the runner-up followed by the night’s quick qualifier Chad Humston in third. Jason Johnson started tenth and finished fourth and the pole-sitter Jamie Veal completed the top five. Bronson Maeschen, who was second quick in qualifying, raced to a sixth-place finish, Lee Grosz was seventh, eighth went to Matt Covington, Brady Bacon was ninth and Tony Bruce Jr. drove from row eleven to finish tenth.

Chad Humston (1M) tales third from Aussie Jamie Veal late in the main event - Barry Johnson photo

360 Nats Thursday Notes…..Chad Humston, a weekly competitor in Knoxville’s 360 division, posted the fastest qualifying lap of 15.875 that was originally announced as a new track record, but was later corrected as saying that it was just a tick off of the standard. Both he and Dustin Selvage should sit at the top of the points after night number one. Could this be the year that a Knoxville track regular who does not compete in the 410 division wins the 360 Nationals?…..Tim Kaeding passed Jonathon Cornell on the final lap of the first heat for the fourth and final transfer spot. Cornell then came up one spot short of getting to the feature out of the B-Main when he could not chase down Johnny Anderson. Look for the youngster out of Sedalia, Missouri, to make a run at the “alphabet soup” Saturday night as his point total may land him near the front of the C-Main…..The only red flag of the night came on the opening lap of the third heat race when Erin Crocker pushed up the track in turn one, made contact with another car and then went end over end three or four times before hitting the fence. Erin climbed out of the car, told the Safety Team that she was fine and then hopped in the golf cart with infield announcer Mike Roberts who then drove her back to her trailer. Crocker’s sponsor “City Chevrolet” is a trap waiting to catch even the best of announcers with a slip of the tongue, kind of like the first driver’s name that I ever had to say over the microphone, Bill Shipman……think about it…..Sixteen-year-old Californian Justyn Cox was impressive driving past quicker qualifiers Matt Moro and Johnny Anderson in heat three to be the only driver who started outside of the six-car inverts to transfer to the A-Main. Cox had qualified 33rd out of the forty-nine-car field…..Kansas driver Logan Walker and his crew will hopefully have something to joke about over a pizza this week when they sent him out for the fourth heat with the two bolts missing from the front support for the top wing. The wing came down during the pace laps, Logan found his way to the work area and the crew added the bolts just in time to get Walker back on the track for the start of the race. Later in the evening, Walker’s nose wing shifted during the running of the C-Main….Selvage was the only driver to start sixth and win a qualifying heat as he passed D.J. Brink to take heat five.

Two speedsters from Oklahoma, Brady Bacon (99) and Matt Covington (95) do battle during Thursday's feature event - Barry Johnson photo

The 360 Nationals continue tonight (Friday) with well over fifty cars and drivers set to make their qualifying attempts for Saturday’s finale.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

First Deery Win For Eckrich Comes At Farley

It is still in its infancy, but the 3/8th-mile oval at the Farley Speedway came of age Tuesday night offering three-wide racing action as the Deery Brothers Summers Series IMCA Late Models came to town. Keith Simmons and his crew lived up to their reputation for providing a perfectly manicured surface and while Andy Eckrich pulled away from the pack for his first Series victory, the action behind him was intense.

Jeff Aikey and Kevin Blum started the fifty-lap main event on the front row with hometown driver Jason Rauen just behind them in row two. These three drivers went at it from the drop of the green racing three-wide for lap one with Aikey being credited as the leader and it was Aikey and Rauen side-by-side into turn one on lap number two. As Aikey slid up the track in turn two, Rauen tried to dive back below him and the two cars paused with contact. Blum saw the opening on the bottom and went for it just as Rauen came down the track and those two cars came together down the backstretch resulting in a flat tire for Rauen. After quick work by his crew Rauen restarted from the rear of the twenty-four-car field and by using the highest line around each set of turns he passed six cars in a lap before the caution waved again, this time for a flat tire on Kevin Blum’s ride. As Blum pulled to the pits, so did Todd Malmstrom and Darrell DeFrance as they also suffered from flat tires.

The race was searching for a rhythm as the caution waved again on lap six for a slowing Dan Shelliam, lap eight for a slowing Jeremiah Hurst and lap twelve for a flat tire on Tyler Bruening’s car. In between though Rauen’s entertaining run back to the front continued as he was up to fifth by lap seven and Andy Eckrich had driven past Aikey for the lead on lap eight. Brian Harris slowed and brought out a caution on lap eighteen and on the restart the field finally settled into some longer term racing. Eckrich opened up a straightaway advantage while Rauen clawed his way past Aikey for second on lap twenty. Aikey came back to regain the spot briefly the following lap before Rauen flew by again and began to eat into the lead being enjoyed by Eckrich. The distance between the top two was visibly shrinking each lap and it looked like we were setting up for a thrilling finish until the caution waved on lap thirty-six for debris. During the caution Rauen pulled off the track and to his pit area, finished for the night. “Hammer Down” definitely put on a show this evening only to never see the checkers.

Another caution for debris on lap thirty-eight slowed the field one last time and, with Rauen now on the shelf, Eckrich drove away over the final twelve laps to score his first career Deery Brothers Summer Series victory. Terry Neal drove another consistently solid fifty-laps to finish second after starting in row five. Series point leader Ray Guss Jr. made a big early move from row six to get into the top five and settled for third tonight. Aikey would finish in the fourth position while Mark Preston rounded out the top five.

Farley Deery Notes…..Three drivers who suffered serious accidents at last Wednesday’s race in Knoxville were in borrowed cars tonight. Charlie McKenna is very appreciative of the gesture from veteran driver Gary Crawford who has offered up his car to “Chargin’ Charlie” to use for the remainder of the season. McKenna pulled an old body from his garage to hang on Crawford’s car, so to the fans it looked like it was McKenna’s old #22, but Charlie wanted me to make sure that our readers knew just how much he appreciated what Gary Crawford has done for him. McKenna was scheduled to start the feature from row eight, but he dropped to the back before the start. From there he was getting faster each lap and completed the race with a solid sixth-place finish……The cars of T.J. Criss and Kevin Blum both suffered serious damage when they collided last week at Knoxville. On this night Blum was behind the wheel of the Christner #67 that has been wheeled lately by Tony VonDresky. As always “The Wildman” was fast contending for the lead before the flat tire on lap three, but he raced his way all the way back up from the back to finish seventh. Criss, who told me that his own car would have been repaired and ready to race if this event were on Wednesday, was very pleased that Todd Cooney provided one of his cars to drive here at Farley. Criss drove a cautious race in the borrowed ride and finished just outside of the top ten in 14th……Eighteen IMCA Modifieds and nine Farley Flyers were also in action. Vern Jackson dominated the twenty-lap Modified feature starting from the outside of row one and going the distance unchallenged. Jerry Luloff was the runner-up, Leon Wilson took third ahead of Mark Schulte and Jason Seegmiller. Raritan, Illinois, driver Brandon Rothzen was a surprise visitor in the Modifieds making a nearly three hour pull north to Farley. Rothzen started eleventh and was challenging for third with five laps remaining when he appeared to have rear end issues along with a flat tire that ended his night. Brannon Bechen held off Jeremy Campbell to win the Flyer feature while John Flury finished third…..The next event for the Deery series will be on Monday August 16th for the annual event during the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines…..Simmons Promotions will host another “Tornado Tuesday” event next week on August 10th as the Open Late Models will be at the West Liberty Raceway......The premier event for the Farley Speedway is just over a month away as the 33rd Annual Yankee Dirt Track Classic will be held here September 15th through the 18th.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Clauson Scores Win At US 36

The POWRi Midget series returned to the US 36 Raceway near Osborn, Missouri, Sunday for a night of action on the high-banked 3/8th-mile oval. When we attended this event last season it was one of our favorite shows of 2009 as all three divisions, the Midgets, the Modifieds and the Sport Mods all saw some great racing and the show was topped off by a last lap pass by J.J. Yeley to win the main event. This year, the Midgets put on another good night of racing, but the two Modified divisions came down with yellow fever that made for a late night.

Twenty-nine Midgets filled the upper pit area as four heats and a B-Main whittled the field down to twenty-two cars. Actually, make that twenty-three as former champion Brad Kuhn used a provisional to start the thirty-lap feature at the rear after struggling all night with mechanical issues. The first attempt at a start saw pole-sitter Andy Shouse and current point leader Brad Loyet make contact in turn one sending Loyet up the track and almost into the fence. Both cars stayed under power and in motion, but the caution waved anyway and both drivers were placed back into their original starting positions. On the next start Nick Knepper shot to the lead down the backstretch with Loyet, Bryan Clauson and Zach Daum in hot pursuit. These four drivers separated themselves from the rest of the field running in close formation around the cushion at both ends. As they entered lapped traffic things got real interesting with the leaders choosing different lines with plenty of slidejobs to go around, and I was impressed with how the backmarkers handled the situation as nobody ran into anybody! On lap eight as the four top contenders and three lapped cars raced their way through turn four in about five different lanes, Clauson used the bottom groove to drive from third to first down the front straightaway.

Even with the new leader, that wild battle at the front continued until lap fifteen when the caution waved for Don Droud Jr. who had spun in turn one. With clear track ahead of them on the restart, the lead quartet again drove away from the field and things were just about to get crazy again with lapped traffic when on lap twenty-three the red flag suddenly appeared for Mario Clouser who had flipped into the catch fence in turn two. Clouser crawled out from his car that was tangled in the fence and walked away while track crews went to work on making repairs to the barrier between the track and the pit area. After the long red neither Nick Knepper, who had been running fourth, or Tim Siner were able to re-fire and both drivers retired to the pits. As the field came to the green for the restart the lapped car of Will Pierce went spinning to the infield, apparently after contact from behind by Daum who was then moved back two positions in the running order from third to fifth for the next restart.

With no traffic to contend with over the last seven laps Clauson rode the preferred groove around the top unchallenged to the $3,000 victory with Loyet not too far behind in second. Matt Sherrell benefited from the penalty to Daum to take third while Daum passed Andrew Felker in the final two laps to finish fourth. Kuhn’s crew got the bugs out of his car just in time for the feature as he made a couple of challenges to Felker on the final lap for fifth, but he will have to be happy with a sixth-place finish on what had to be a frustrating night for the former National Midget Driver of the Year. Another driver that we felt would be a top contender on the night, Chad Boat, had his evening come to an end when his motor blew during the first heat race.
Twenty-five Sport Mods and forty Modifieds were on hand to lend support on the evening. The three Sport Mod heats struggled on a track that was still a little slick after being reworked and watered after hot laps while the Modified heats went pretty well except for a hard rollover down the front stretch by Michael Dotson in the final qualifier. Twenty-one cars started the Modified B-Main though and, after running about five green flag laps without incident, you could say that the wheels fell off as drivers mainly in the back of the pack kept spinning and or colliding causing caution after caution. Finally after twenty-five minutes and two attempts at a green-white-checkered finish, the event was mercifully brought to a conclusion to the delight of much of the large crowd. Only the fans of the drivers running ninth on back who would not earn a transfer could have wanted this race to see another green flag.

The Midgets had been running third in the order through the qualifying events and we were thrilled when they announced that their feature would run first. And, when the checkered flag fell on that main event at 10:25 p.m. we headed for the car and our three and a half hour drive home. Checking the results here on Monday I see that Mark Dotson took the win in the Modified feature ahead of Matt Dotson, Jason Bodenhammer, Dennis Elliott and Shad Badder. Badder was the big mover in the race coming from sixteenth to finish fifth. USMTS regular Johnny Scott out of Las Cruces, New Mexico, came from tenth to finish second in his heat but then wound up with a 22nd-place finish in the feature. Cody Graham picked up the win in the Sport Mods followed by Tim Eaton, Jacob Ebert, Blake Peeler and Chris Wright.

A big thanks to track owners Mike and Ruth Franks for the hospitality shown to both Morgan and I this evening, keep an eye on the US 36 Raceway website to see when you can catch a special event at this fine facility.

If you are a Sprint Car or Midget fan make sure that you check out our newest blogger, soon to be added to Positively Racing, for Open Wheel News and Notes.

Next up for us is a trip to Farley on Tuesday for the Deery Brothers Summer Series event and then on Thursday it will be night number one of the Southern Iowa Sprint Speedweeks kicking off with the 360 Nationals at Knoxville. Hope to see you along the way!